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Indiana money manager faces federal charges in ill-fated flight

Thursday, January 15, 2009

CHATTAHOOCHEE, Fla. -- A daredevil money manager whose run from ruin was halted when investigators interrupted his suicide attempt at a Florida campground found his legal problems compounded Wednesday as authorities filed federal charges against him in the three-day ordeal.

U.S. Marshals tracked Marcus Schrenker, 38, to a north Florida campground late Tuesday night, peeling back the flap to his one-man tent to discover him in clouded consciousness with blood-soaked arms, muttering the word "die." The capture ended a multistate hunt to find him after he allegedly staged a plane crash and parachuted out over Alabama, then fled.

Scott Wilson, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Northern District of Florida, said Schrenker was charged with intentionally wrecking his aircraft and faking a distress call, causing the Coast Guard to launch a search to save his life when it wasn't necessary.

Schrenker was resting in a heavily guarded hospital room Wednesday, but was expected to appear first in a Florida court before returning to his home state of Indiana, Wilson said.

How U.S. Marshals were able to track Schrenker to the campsite remained a mystery, but he gave them ample opportunity: Officials said he drove a flashy red motorcycle, approached local police after allegedly jumping out of the plane and even sent an e-mail to a friend saying the whole situation was a misunderstanding.

"It's certainly something right out of Hollywood. Someone parachuting out of a plane to avoid capture as a fugitive. It's certainly not the run of the mill case for us," Wilson said.

The campground's owners said he rode into the tree-lined site on the red bike Monday night, wearing a brown leather jacket. He didn't give a name but handed over $25.75 in cash for a tent site, and bought some firewood and a six-pack of Bud Light Lime. They gave him a password for the site's wireless Internet connection, said owner Caroline Hastings.

"He said he was going across the country with some buddies. He wanted to stop. He didn't know if they would," said Hastings, 32, who operates the campsite with her husband, Troy.

The next day, the couple grew suspicious when he hadn't checked out by 5 p.m., and had only paid for one night. Hastings' husband went to his tent and saw a red stain on one of the outer flaps.

"Are you OK? Planning to spend another night?" he called out.

Schrenker said he was, he'd be by later to pay. He didn't come.

Later, the Hastings were making dinner when the sheriff called and asked if anything odd was going on. Troy Hastings mentioned the camper, and the sheriff asked if they could come identify him. Caroline Hastings didn't need to look at a picture long to know it was him -- and soon, authorities swarmed onto the grounds and found him bloodied and barely conscious.

Schrenker will likely face a parade of legal proceedings in the coming months. Already, he has been charged with acting as a financial manager even though his license had expired in Indiana. State regulators also have filed complaints against him that he unfairly charged seven investors some $250,000 in exorbitant fees he didn't tell them about when they switched annuities.

It wasn't clear if Schrenker had obtained an attorney, and no one answered the door Wednesday at his Indiana home.

When Schrenker took off on his ill-fated flight, he already faced some $9 million or more in potential and actual court judgments and legal claims, according to a review of court documents by The Associated Press. And according to a letter he wrote in early December, he was planning to file for bankruptcy.

"It needs to be known that I am financially insolvent," Schrenker, with two personal bankruptcies already behind him, wrote in a letter in early December. "I am intending on filing bankruptcy in 2009 should my financial conditions continue to deteriorate."

Things did get worse, and investigators say that's when Schrenker took another way out by apparently trying to stage his death.

On top of his other debts, Schrenker could be forced to pay $5,100 -- and possibly much more -- for the cost of Coast Guard boats and helicopters used in the search.

"I have personally lost all hope," Schrenker wrote to his attorney in December, regarding an Alabama case in which a man sued him claiming he unknowingly purchased a damaged aircraft from Schrenker in 2002. "I don't think that there is a good person left in this world."


Associated Press Writers Devlin Barrett in Washington, Melissa Nelson in Pensacola, Fla., Rick Callahan, Ken Kusmer and Jeni O'Malley in Indianapolis contributed to this report.


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